The Curious Incident at The Ohio State University: Part One, Media Design

media design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
(Courtesy of OSU)

A novel by Mark Haddon, an Olivier and Tony Award-winning play by Simon Stephens with a London production at the National Theatre, a hit on Broadway, and now an interesting college production with media design by Alex Oliszewski, lighting design by Mary Tarantino, scenic design by William Ledbetter, and costume design by Julianne Nogar. The professional designers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which ran April 10-20, 2019, at The Ohio State University, comment on their work.

Media Design by Alex Oliszewski 

Live Design: How much does the script influence the design concept for the show?

Alex Oliszewski: After going through the script a number of times on my own, I turned my attention closely to our director Kevin McClatchy and his interpretations and vision for the play, trusting his previous experience working with the Shakespeare and Autism Project at The Ohio State University would provide the design team with important insights. I made sure to take clear notes about what Kevin communicated as important within the piece. I quickly locked into the fact that Kevin was excited by the moments of wonder and inspiration experienced by Christopher. That the fight and slog through the hard moments must be clearly balanced if not weighted towards revealing the value and human beauty also hiding beneath Christopher’s sometime ineffable surface.

The script was of course the starting point of every aspect of the play; however barring the final scene of the play, it is not very prescriptive for media. So it became an exercise of careful dramaturgy to ensure that each moment of media was saying what it needed to, sometimes in incredibly immersive moments but always living within the frame of the show. Providing context, focus, and revealing the invisible but never upstaging the story or the human presence and movement of the performers for the sake of spectacle.

I also turned closely to our lighting designer, Mary Tarantino. Partly inspired by my deep respect for Mary’s experience and design genius and also because of the opportunity to integrate our systems closely with a BlackTrax motion capture system, I quickly began to approach my contributions as being a symbiont of the lighting design. Where media needed to rise to the surface and take over the visual landscape, I was heavily influenced by the gridded structure of the set and created and built content that would seem to extend out of the mathematical and geometric hard lines of the stage. Where the lights would follow closely the movement of the performers to allow isolation in space even during very complex movement sequences so the media would be able to track and shift with these movements, providing both immersion and isolation. 

media design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

LD: What is the video technology for content creation and playback? How is it all calibrated?

AO: For this show, I used Isadora as my media sever. I heavily relied on the Isadora’s ability to integrate and manipulate in real time GLSL shaders. GLSL shaders allowed me to create dynamic real-time content that would run crisp and silky smooth at over 90 frames per second that could be directly linked to the movement of the performers and the lighting design. In this way, over 90% of the show ended up being computer code running at real-time.

For the projection system, I integrated five projectors in two clusters. The first cluster was made up of three 7500 lumen Optoma projectors, each completely blended together against the back wall of the set with matching lenses. This helped ensure a crisp and sufficiently intense image to ensure lighting would not be forced to bring down their instruments during important moments when our content may otherwise have been unbalanced.

The second cluster was made up of two 20K Christie Roadsters, one with tight lenses to cover the stage floor and allow the projected content to follow and envelop the performers downstage of the back wall, and the second of these projectors was equipped with a wide angle lens for content to be blended with the floor to boost its intensity as well as extend to fill the entire 40' back wall of the theatre well beyond the extents of the 23' gridded stage wall. In this way, the media content was able to both be isolated and extend out and represent the vastness of space or otherwise extend the scenic environment beyond its obvious boundaries.

Where these projectors overlapped with the back wall and the other projectors, I used Isadora to blend them with the first cluster and boost the intensity of those images even more when not dealing with crisp text where their different pixel densities would have caused blurring on the edges. This was quite a complicated blending approach made very easy by the built-in video mapping capabilities of Isadora. Once the logic of how content would be sent to the various blends was set up in Isadora; with my assistant Kelsey Gallagher standing on the stage to help us get everything pixel perfect, we were able to fine tune the blending manually within about 15-20 minutes.  

media design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

One of my biggest concerns with designing the media for this show was that it could easily become overwhelming in ways that don’t serve the piece. While the script is light on specifics when it comes to how the media should be integrated, my concern was amplified by the fact I actually found it almost too easy to find moments that offered the potential for a cue. Like all the other design elements of the show, the design team agreed the media’s job was to reveal the hidden world within Christopher, the main character. Knowing this and that the show has a reputation preceding it as a media intensive piece, I chose to actively avoid the temptation of forgetting to constantly ask myself: Does each and every cue or moment I am interested in touching with the media design add new information and insight into the story, or am I over balancing the digital media aesthetics of the show towards special and away from the very human-based power brought to the show by the actors and their movement and raw presence?

In the end, some of my favorite moments in the play were when the media had clearly established a powerful stage picture representing Christopher’s inner world and then refrained from returning when the play would cycle back into a moment of violence or wonder that had already been visualized, instead trusting the audience would now know what was hiding below the surface. It was also very important for me to not allow the media to stand out separate from the lighting design provided with Mary Tarantino. Indeed, a favorite after show moment with the audience came when someone approached me and started grilling me to understand what of the show was lighting and what was media.

media design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Check out the lighting design and scenic design, and stayed tuned for the costume design!

Full Production Team

  • Chair – Janet Parrott
  • Producer – Mandy Fox
  • Production Manger – Sherée Greco
  • Director & Co-Choreographer – Kevin McClatchy
  • Movement Director & Co-Choreographer – Jeanine Thompson
  • Scenic and Properties Designer – William Ledbetter
  • Costume Designer – Julianne Nogar
  • Lighting Designer – Mary Atantino
  • Sound Designer – Eve Nordyke
  • Media Designer- Alex Oliszewski
  • Technical Director – Chris Zinkon
  • Stage Manager – Dana Petersen
  • Dramaturg – Anna Guse
  • Assistant Director - Jason Speicher
  • Assistant Lighting Designer – Braden Held
  • Assistant Sound Designer – Curtis Myers
  • Assistant Media Designer – Kelsey Gallaher
  • Assistant Stage Manager – Jerrett Crowthers
  • Dialect Coach – Mandy Fox
  • Fight Choreographer & Assistant Movement Director – Jason Speicher
  • Ticket Office Manager – Carolyn Jakubczak

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